A NEW report has found that the Covid-19 pandemic has "inflamed underlying health inequalities across and within EU Member States", with those in lower-income deciles most affected.
'From the Crash to Covid and Beyond', published by the independent think tank and justice advocacy organisation, Social Justice Ireland, found that a majority of Member States – 22 in total – now face key challenges around the provision of accessible and cost-effective healthcare.
"In terms of unmet health needs within the EU, there is a clear income gradient.
"Our report shows that lowest-income quintiles more often report an unmet need for medical care," CEO of Social Justice Ireland, Dr Seán Healy commented.
"The legacy of the pandemic could continue to impact Member States with weaker or more unequal health provision leading to increased health problems among those who have missed out on treatment as a result of the pandemic."
The report is the thirteenth publication in Social Justice Ireland’s European Research Series.
Outlining some of the key health findings of the report, Michelle Murphy, Research and Policy Analyst at Social Justice Ireland, noted that in the period from 2014 to 2019 there was a "welcome downward trend" in the average perception of unmet need for health care across the EU.
However, the pandemic has changed this.
"Unfortunately, there has been an enormous rise in reported unmet medical needs – jumping from one-in-fifty in 2019 to closer to one-in-five in 2020.
"The most recent data confirms a dramatic increase in pre-pandemic trends of rising unmet health needs among those on low incomes," she said.
Speaking to The Echo, Ms Murphy said that in terms of the inequalities within healthcare systems in the EU, Ireland ranks somewhere in the middle.
"In terms of our European counterparts, we’d be somewhere in the middle and we would be following the trend of people on lower incomes having the greatest unmet healthcare needs and the concern, which is echoed by the European Commission, is that as the pandemic continues and as the length of time between care for these people continues to grow then they are going to be presenting to the health service maybe with more than one issue and that in itself presents serious challenges and obviously for individuals themselves too," she said.
Against the backdrop of the Covid pandemic crisis, Ms Murphy said the issue of access to healthcare and of reducing health inequalities has come "absolutely central to ensuring an effective, equitable and lasting recovery".
Speaking in relation to Ireland specifically, Ms Murphy said:
"Ireland is the only country in the EU that doesn’t have primary care which is free at the point of access.
"So here, unless you have a medical card, you immediately have to pay when you go to visit your GP whereas in all other EU member states that element of primary care is actually free at the first point of access.
"In Ireland, while we’re incredibly lucky to have the healthcare service that we do, the pandemic has put it under huge strain because we haven’t invested in primary care and community care as early as we should have."